Actualizado: 3 mar 2020
The Student Media Grant from the Center for Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University funded this photo essay. This funding allowed me to capture some stories amid the increasing restriction in the Central American - US migratory corridor. Since policies and practices have exacerbated vulnerabilities of migrants as they journey north, these photographs help to understand some of the many faces and stories that transit and reside in this part of the Guatemala-Mexico border.
In June 2019, the immigration situation on the southern border of Mexico was delicate. While political responses to migrant caravans in the last months of 2018 were widely criticized and had devastating effects on the lives of thousands of migrants, the incorporation of the National Guard into the service of immigration control opened a new restrictive landscape in the country.
The stagnation of the migrant population was evident. The offices of the Mexican refugee assistance commission (COMAR) served endless lines with people eager for information on asylum requests, some with weeks and even months of delay. The city with mixed feelings: some signs of solidarity and many more signs of rejection, arguing an increase in crime, among other things.
Tapachula became a prison city. A city from which they cannot escape and where they are not welcome at the same time. The atmosphere of discrimination was evident, accusatory looks and racist comments were an everyday thing. The photographs I took illustrate the hopeless atmosphere very well, but equally important were the comments from local population, questioning me on why these people were so important to photograph. Photography reveals not only an image of time and space but even that which cannot be seen but which can definitely be felt.
After portraying restrictive and hopeless situations, I decided to turn to the search for images that narrated the other faces of the immigration situation in Tapachula. The objective of this essay was also to generate images told from the protagonists of the stories themselves. Jonathan, a 12-year-old Guatemalan boy, took the camera like a pro from the first time he had it in his hands. I met him at Miguel Hidalgo Park, while his family worked making braids in the local's hair. Not only were the photos impressive, but his description of them perfectly captured what he felt while taking them.
First introduced by John Collier (1967), photo-elicitation uses finished products like one or more images (photos, but also videos, or any other type of visual representation) to generate verbalizations of experiences, emotions, and thoughts of specific places and times. The images are produced by subjects or the researcher and then are analyzed by the subjects, evoking a discourse that is meaningful to understand how the informants are represented in relation to the images that they themselves, or people in their environment have taken. In this sense, photography must be considered not a point of arrival but of departure in exploring subjects’ understandings and perceptions.
These images represent some of the many faces of migration. They show that the narratives of suffering can be answered by others that illustrate the complexity of a widely unknown and everyday situation.